Forget the Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott-Tony Romo dilemma. America’s real quarterback controversy is over who will eventually succeed Clemson star Deshaun Watson. There are no fewer than two top five-star quarterback recruits, from both the 2017 and 2018 classes, heading to Clemson in the next two years. There’s another four-star QB recruit already on campus, and two other notable three-star players who earned their way to Death Valley by competing with plenty of gumption, all with their eyes on a spot leading the Tigers.
So what’s Dabo Swinney to do? Let them compete, of course. That’s where things should get very interesting, because the Tigers have passing riches the likes of which we’ve rarely seen before. The best place to start is the top, with the most recent member of the future Tigers quarterback club: Trevor Lawrence, the quarterback prospect flavor du jour.
As noted by 247 Sports’ Steve Wiltfong, Lawrence — a Cartersville, Ga. product — is considered by some to be the single best football player to come out of Georgia since Herschel Walker. He’s the top-rated quarterback and overall prospect in the Class of 2018. He’s thrown for 10,405 yards and 118 touchdowns in his three high school seasons, all as a starter at Cartersville. He’s won 30 straight games in which he’s started, leading Cartersville to back-to-back titles en route. He’ll be expected to earn a third one next fall, before heading off to compete at Clemson.
Which quarterback he’ll be trying to unseat is also a valid question. While most on campus expect Zerrick Cooper, a current freshman, to lead the Tigers, he’ll have to fight off incoming freshman Hunter Johnson, a five-star passer who was long considered the top quarterback in the Class of 2017 (until being unseated by Stanford-pledge Davis Mills). Johnson is a prototypical power passing quarterback who has all the hallmarks of a future college star. He’s 6-foot-4 (almost) and 200 pounds, is a star sprinter in the spring and has a cannon of an arm. All of the nation’s wanted Johnson, and he chose Clemson. In doing so, he knew that he would be setting up a QB battle not only with Cooper, but also with fellow incoming freshman Chase Brice, a four-star passer from recently-crowned Georgia state-title Grayson. Like Johnson, Brice is a born winner who would be considered a strong option to start at a true freshman at many programs across the country, even though he’ll be a long shot competitor at Clemson.
Those options don’t even consider former Florida record-setting prep passer Tucker Israel and rising junior Kelly Bryant, an strong three-star, in-state product who will be the senior man among the competitors for the position.
That’s five passers competing for one spot, with an allegedly even better option coming a year later (and another redshirt freshman, James Barnes, who no one thinks will be able to keep up). Logic would dictate that not all these strong-armed options will stick in South Carolina, but the kinds of personalities who have accomplished as much as the entire crop of Clemson passers are not likely to be easily dissuaded from their dream of winning in Death Valley. They just can’t all do it at once, and some may not be able to do it at all. If either of those categories applies to Johnson or Lawrence in the years ahead, that will be a stunning development for all who have watched them excel on local and national stages in the years before they arrive in Clemson, assuming that’s where they end up.
It should be a heck of a passer battle ahead, both leading into the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Swinney and his staff should buckle their seatbelts now.